[ASC-media] Planet’s Greatest Survival Story – Gondwanan Rainforests

Karla Davies Karla.Davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
Wed Jun 3 15:42:30 PDT 2015

Media release

Thursday, 4th June 2015

Planet’s Greatest Survival Story – Gondwanan Rainforests

A new scientific study has determined for the first time that Australia’s Gondwanan Rainforest plants survived only because they were lucky to dodge extinction – rather than an ability to adapt to climate change.

Lead Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney researcher Dr Robert Kooyman said the study revealed one of the planet’s greatest journeys of survival - that the plants withstood travelling half way around the world and over 70 million years.

“We used a compendium of fossils and rainforest fossil sites representing 70 million years to determine the influence of ‘conservatism’ versus ‘adaption’ in Gondwanan rainforest lineages,” Dr Kooyman said.

“Due to the slow motion northward movement of the Australian continent, the Gondwanan time travellers just managed to avoid the full effects of several ice ages, just avoided extinction in an increasingly ‘hot-dry’ Australia, and at the very last moment some even moved onto emerging Papuan and Asian mountains .

“The overwhelming evidence is of movement in response to changes in environmental conditions rather than in situ persistence and adaption to change.

“Current rates of disturbance and change (anthropogenic) are much more rapid than these historic shifts in climate.  In the context of a flora that predominantly moved to track environmental conditions versus adapted to change, this presents the scenario of a severely constrained future,” he said.

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia include extensive areas of tropical, subtropical, and temperate rainforest.  The research team led by Dr Kooyman traced the movements of these amazing rainforest plants across the long paleo-botanical history of Australia, New Zealand, Patagonia (southern South America), and Antarctica. From deep in the past when Antarctica was warm and covered in forest, to the high mountains of the modern Asian tropics, the team identified the key players, survivors, shakers, movers, and losers.

Dr Kooyman said the study will guide informed decisions about conservation because it provides a better understanding of the underlying ecology, biology and biogeography of the ‘survivors’. This information will then help inform future studies on the genetic structure of species, populations, and species assemblages (communities).

“Protecting this ancient forest flora into the future will require ongoing and targeted scientific research to quantify the evolutionary, ecological, and functional contributions they make to current global vegetation,” he said.

“The critical factor we can influence is the size of species populations and the available opportunities (space) to move and recolonise as conditions change.

“With this study, we now have the framework to use our resources wisely and direct them relative to lineage and species specific strategies which reflect historic evolutionary information and the current day ecological competence of species,” Dr Kooyman said.

Media contact:  Karla Davies, 0427 482 477, karla.davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au<mailto:karla.davies at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au>
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